Cast includes: Milagros
Martín (Manuela); Carmen González (Rosario); Ricardo Muñiz
(José María); José Luis Cancela (Señor Antonio);
Pepa Rosado (Venustiana); Rafael Castejón (Chalina); Luis Perezagua
(Juan de Dios); Luis Barbero (Don Epifanio); Carmen Linares (cantaora); Marisa
Ruiz (Emilia); Bailarines y Figuración del Teatro de la Zarzuela; Coro
del Teatro de la Zarzuela; Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid
The 1988 La chulapona enhanced the reputation of Madrid's Teatro de la Zarzuela at home and abroad, as witness its later triumphs at the Edinburgh Festival and elsewhere. Ignacio Jassa Haro's review of the current, "umpteenth" Madrid revival attests to its evergreen integrity. What more can be said about Gerardo Malla's production? It quells doubts as to the musical depth of Torroba's professionally organised operone score, projects Romero and Shaw's drama as something rather more complex than an affectionate tribute to the tipos of turn-of-the-century Madrid and her género chico, and offers great theatrical opportunities to some outstanding performers in their prime - all in the context of an elegant, exhilarating production, redolent of Madrid's blue-sky days and hot, scented nights.
RTVE's broadcast comes from the initial September 1988 run, and features several of the artists - notably Milagros Martín as the eponymous heroine and Carmen González as her hapless rival - who are still wowing Madrid in their roles. Though marred by the ceaseless trampling over stage treads and far too many big bumps from throat mikes, it is sensitively directed and gives a credible impression of the strengths of this highly theatrical show. The snippets of contemporary film footage of Old Madrid introduced during the preludios add to the atmosphere considerably. Less so the Victorian prints giving a visual counterpoint to the nocturnal Act 3 intermedio.
Nearly everything else here is positive. Martín's Manuela transfers well to the small screen, as much for her detailed, subtle acting as for her vocal reliability. She renders the character's painful dilemmas human and touching. González's Rosario is well contrasted vocally and just as strongly acted - their climactic dúo is very moving. Ricardo Muñiz is not in this league, though he sings his romanza with its night-scented offstage flamenco punteados - the only substantial solo number in the score - to tolerable effect. On the whole his José María hardly seems worth fighting over, which of course may be part of Romero and Shaw's point! One can't help reflecting that Manuela is ultimately much better off settling for the sturdy civic virtues of José Luis Cancela's stolid Señor Antonio - which again, pace Ignacio Jassa's thoughts on the matter, may well be what the playwrights invite us to contemplate.
This zarzuela shop is almost overstocked with desirable comedy goods. Pepa Rosada's foghorn gallion of a moneylender, Rafael Castejón's laid-back organ-grinder, Luis Perezagua's protean Juan de Dios, and Luis Barbero's unconscionably perky ne'er do well Don Epifanio all justify their onstage time. The chorus then as now are pretty much stars of the show, in a variety of handsomely costumed incarnations. Vocally they are maybe even better today than fifteen years ago. Miguel Roa holds proceedings together efficiently, and though some of the concertante movements strain at the temporal seams, this DVD remains invaluable from the musical point of view, when the only CD version of the score - with Berganza and Lorengar under Frühbeck de Burgos - is so maddeningly incomplete. The biographies, and short video sequences on the work, its premiere, and the history of zarzuela, are useful DVD extras. Altogether, at 14.50 Euros this priceless Chulapona is something like the bargain of the year. Snap it up while you can.
© Christopher Webber, 2004